Noise Pollution #19: Dirty Black Summer
Earlier this week I turned 44. I'm only eight years away from when my mother died of some weird heart shit and six away from when my father died in a plane crash. Why am I bringing up this cheeriness? Because it's fucking weird to me that I have a chance to outlive either of them considering what a fucking mess I've made of the majority of my life and the strange desperation I'm tangled in trying to fix them. Just the other day I was at a vascular surgeon having them map my arteries to see how fucked I was, all because of a throwaway sentence on a report during my treatment for kidney stones (unfortunately I'm fine), I've been seeing more doctors and dentists in the last few months than I have in the last ten (or twenty) years. I can’t tell if it’s the fear of my mortality or if I’ve hit the age of responsible adulthood. Either way, happy birthday to me I guess.
There are a few dead horses I tend to go back to beat when I pull memories for this column. The year 1995 continues to be one of those equine corpses, as is the case this time around. I also have written about Darkthrone on a few occasions, and will probably continue to do so. Am I in the period where I've become a doddering old man whose conversation skills are stuck in an infinite loop, like a broken record? Probably. But that's where I’m going with this: records, 1995, and Darkthrone.
I spent the summer of '95 washing dishes by day and trawling the Ocean City boardwalk's 12th Street Pavilion by night, with as much music as possible at all times. My two more prominent obsessions at the time were My Dying Bride and Darkthrone. I think both bands represented different sides of the same mysticism that permeated the first few years I was diving into underground culture. Both were bands who, at the time, were difficult to complete a physical discography for. Between My Dying Bride's EPs and everything besides Transilvanian Hunger from Darkthrone being nigh impossible to score, either due to the distributors our local stores used or them being out of print "imports." Fortunately our local metal radio show, "The Hours of Desolation," had all of them, so we would get a taste here and there.
I don't know how much I've written about my mother over the years (though my family is aware how much I've written about my relationship with my father) and, while a lot of it towards the end of her life is complicated, she was the most loving and supportive parent I could have asked for. She helped nurture my lifelong love of books and music and kept an interest in the stupid shit I was into, probably out of a sense of parental responsibility, but also out of curiosity since her own parents were not as accepting of countercultural expressions. The summer of '95 she did two things that have stayed with me, both for my birthday. The first was she got in contact with Bruce, who did the "Hours of Desolation" radio show at the Stockton College I've written about previously, and asked if he could bring all of the My Dying Bride EPs and A Blaze in the Northern Sky and play them back to back for my birthday, which he was kind enough to do, and since I taped every show meant I had all of these (again, at the time) really fucking hard to find records to tide me over until I was eventually able to get physical copies.
Still songs that give me chills.
The other thing she did, knowing my interest in Darkthrone, was buy me my first vinyl (since I was a kid, anyway, with whatever portable Fisher Price record player I fucked about with) which was Darkthrone’s newest album, Panzerfaust. Her line of thought was from her memories of growing up with vinyl and the joy of having something that you could fully experience: the music, the artwork, etc. Basically the byline for anything written about collecting vinyl before flippers, shit quality and just the overall nature of the hobby turned it into another commodity, like Funko Pops and “Let’s Go Brandon” merch printed in China. It was such a romantic notion that, at that age, I could not truly appreciate it. The entire notion as to why I would grow to love vinyl wouldn’t really form into a cohesive thesis until much later, but this is certainly the genesis. All I know is I thought it was really fucking cool to have own this object from a band that held such wonder and mysteries to me.
For many Panzerfaust marked the end of the “classic” era of Darkthrone, the last time they would record at “Necrohell” (Fenriz’s 4 track) for some time, giving them their caustic and raw sound they perfected on Transilvanian Hunger, and the last time they released a truly sonically evil record. This kind of shit is all subjective and, 27 years on, is the kind of time wasting debate the internet was seemingly created for. All I can do is add my (admittedly meaningless) opinion into the pile.
Transilvanian Hunger basically started its own black metal subgenre of copycats (myself included) and continues to be stylistically a bigger influence on black metal as a whole than the people ripping it off would give credit. But you don’t tend to hear bands truly ripping off Panzerfaust to the degree of the previous Darkthrone records. Why? Because it’s a difficult record to emulate, properly at least. The tone, the overblown vocals, just the atmosphere and feeling overall. There’s just something to it, a cold yet detached maliciousness, which gives it a sincerity all its own.
We’ve heard plenty of black metal vocalists go in dry, with the same success the phrase brings to mind. It tends to show deficiencies, sort of like fluorescent lights in a bar bathroom puts on display why you’re physically a fucking mess when you wander in at 1:45 AM before shooting your shot at last call. Yet the vocals on Panzerfaust, deeply in the red, only add to the overall punishing aura of the record, giving it an eldritch quality. Though not stylistically in the same ballpark, the only other record that comes to mind as being its own uniquely textured experience would be “Drawing Down the Moon” by Beherit. Records that stand apart due to their feeling of complete otherworldly alienation.
And that alienation coupled with the emotion of intense solitude and seeking permeates every aspect of Panzerfaust, from its lyrics to its visual aesthetics even down to the choice of using a poem from Tarjei Vesaas, one of Norway’s most celebrated authors, to close out the record in a truly haunting fashion.
I had managed to hold onto my copy of Panzerfaust through multiple moves and a bout of homelessness, but eventually it was destroyed due to the weather damage at the storage space I was using. It was a devastating loss on multiple fronts; it was a depressing sign of how low my life had become, it was a loss of an important and well loved gift from my deceased mother, and -as a record collector- it was the first press on Moonfog, which, holy shit.
Fortunately, the original poster was saved and has been framed and hung up in my various apartments since, and stays as a daily reminder not only of a great record and an important time in my life, but also as a piece of my mother that’s survived the hardest times of my life with me.
A few weeks ago I went to visit the new location of Vinyl Conflict, one of my favorite record stores, and came across a nice used copy of one of the many represses that this once obscure record has undergone. Oddly enough it was purchased as a gift for me for Father’s Day, once again securing its place in memories of the important parts of my life.
Next column I’ll wrap up my summer prattlings but before I go I wanted to share this: Ryan from Anthems of The Undesireable’s 3 year old daughter, Aidy, was diagnosed with a brain tumor earlier this month. She underwent surgery and they’re waiting for the pathology but the road ahead, regardless of outcome, is going to be long and fucking difficult. I’m linking two of the fundraisers for the Stoner family as well as Ryan’s label page. Anything can and will help. Thank you and see you in two.